Sucker Punch Studios’ Infamous Second Son is the best instalment in the series
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Infamous series, preferring the nonsensical mayhem and absurd empowerment of Prototype (although admittedly, I found the second game in the series a little difficult to get into). But when the first Infamous launched some years ago, it really had a few things going for it, and the universe inhabited by Cole MacGrath was an interesting take on superhero-meets-bleak-dystopian future (the universe was infinitely more interesting than MacGrath himself, however). Then there was the stylised comic book themed presentation, and the ability to play as the hero, or that super anti-villain guy that nobody likes — the latter being reserved for the second play — through by the vast majority of players, no doubt.
Both Infamous and its sequel, the cleverly named Infamous 2, had their fair share of issues, and credit to developers Sucker Punch Studios, who seem to have taken an instant-fix wrench to literally every single one of them. First, there was the plot. Despite some very aesthetic treatment which made the comic book style cutscenes stand out, there was something about the core narrative that felt much like the gameplay itself — a grind. In Second Son, protagonist Delsin Rowe is part of a story that feels much more personal (even if his motivations aren’t entirely convincing). He meets more interesting characters in the first 30 minutes of the game than Cole did in both the previous games (more on them later), and is part of a universe in which the difference between right and wrong isn’t quite apparent. Villainy comes in the form of concrete power-wielding chief antagonist Brooke Augustine, who is completely evil, but her reasons for being so utterly diabolical are (strangely) justified. Granted, Second Son isn’t a significant improvement over its predecessors in terms of storytelling, but that’s where the rest of the stuff completely saves the day.
Let’s start with our protagonist, voiced this time by gamedom’s ‘other’ leading man, Troy Baker. The writers should most certainly should get a large portion of the credit for making Delsin Rowe as fun and interesting as he is, but it’s Baker that gets voicing him completely right. The graphics engine, and in particular the facial animation tech (which is the best I’ve seen since Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire) transforms Baker’s voice acting into a full-blown cinematic performance. The supporting cast are not short-done either — Rowe’s brother Reggie is the law-abiding and law-enforcing sheriff of the local town, providing both comic relief and direction to Delsin while serving as his moral compass, as well as the other ‘conduits’, Hank, Fetch and Eugene, all with their own unique personalities and whacky powers.
Games about superheroes have traditionally seen powers involving control over the elements, super strength, magnetism or mind control. Infamous Second Son takes an entirely different approach altogether — so much so that giving away the names of the powers here is the equivalent of revealing a plot spoiler (but I’m going to do it anyway). First, Delsin steals (that’s his first power, the ability to steal someone else’s powers) Hank’s command over smoke, which allows him to enter vents, launch projectiles and disable enemies — like previous games, subduing foes earns good karma while headshotting them, for instance, expectedly earns bad karma. As the game progresses, he acquires the power over neon (yes, neon!) and video, both of which are completely awesome.
To say that Second Son is visually appealing would be an understatement. It’s easily the best looking open world game on consoles today, with Sucker Punch and Sony taking complete advantage of the PS4’s hardware. The trend of great looking first party titles seems to have carried on from last generation, but it’s great to see more consistency this time around — both from exclusives (I wonder what Naughty Dog will get out of the PS4?) as well as multiplatform games.
While Infamous Second Son does suffer from a few issues that its predecessors did (Delsin can feel weak to control when not using the most powerful abilities, lack-of-context morality system), every other area has seen an improvement. If you own a PS4 and like to play open world games, Second Son should be on the top of your list.